Being Quiet Is Not a Character Flaw

IntrovertDear.com introvert quiet

I still remember my parent-teacher conferences and report card comments. Year after year, I heard the same thing: “she’s a great student but she needs to speak up more. She needs to be more outgoing. She needs to stop being so quiet.” These words haunted me. They were a yearly reminder that despite my hard work, I was never going to be successful unless I overcame my quiet nature.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to change. I envied the kids who shot up their hands as soon as the teacher asked a question. Who could flawlessly recite math formulas or deftly explain why a certain passage in a book we were reading was thematically significant.


I, on the other hand, was an expert at avoiding the teacher’s eye. I’d play with my eraser, stretch, or rummage through my pencil case in order to look busy. Hoping the teacher would pass me over for another poor, unfortunate victim. If put on the spot, I’d stutter out an answer, anxious to slip back into relative anonymity for the remainder of the class. I’d then berate myself for any mistakes and my awkward delivery. Why couldn’t I be like my more eloquent classmates? I never understood how something could sound so good in my head but would fall apart as soon as I opened my mouth.

I Tried Being More Outgoing

This all lead to a sense of inferiority that began in grade school and continued to the end of my post-secondary years. I developed coping strategies that allowed me to overcome my quiet nature. I started speaking up more in class. I took a public speaking course. I willingly subjected myself to oral presentations and harsh critiques. I forced myself to be social. My circle of friends grew and I attended more social events. This helped create the façade of being an outgoing and self-assured person. No one called me quiet any more. Success, right?

I had finally become the person I had always wanted to be. But all I felt was emptiness. I didn’t enjoy the shallow conversation and gossip of acquaintances. When I was out, I wanted to be home. I wasn’t getting the deep connections I craved—but I was getting burned out. While I was finally getting the approval of others, it was to the detriment of my mental and physical health.

It wasn’t until I finished post-secondary that I discovered a 10-minute personality test that changed my life. The results of the test were so accurate it was scary. I discovered I was a perfectly normal introvert and an INFJ personality type. A second test revealed that I was also highly sensitive. Finally my quiet nature made sense. It was a trait to be celebrated, not some fatal flaw.


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Unfortunately, 20 or so years of guilt cannot be erased immediately, but I keep moving forward. Here are a few things I like to remind myself of when I start feeling guilty about being quiet:

1. It’s okay to be quiet. There’s nothing wrong with you. Being quiet is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. We often feel pressured to contribute to group conversations, but in reality, we’re not actually obligated to say anything if we don’t want to. If someone else gets frustrated over my lack of participation, that’s their problem, not mine. Introverts tend to like to think about things before commenting, which is something that others should do, too!

2. There are many reasons we’re quiet and all of them are valid. There are so many reasons I might not be saying much. As introverts and/or highly sensitive people, we might be overwhelmed or burned out. We might not be comfortable speaking in front of those particular people. We might be shy. We might have social anxiety. Sometimes the music is too loud, or the lights are too bright. We might be bored by the conversation and planning a way out. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like talking and that’s totally fine too.

3. You don’t have to apologize. I used to apologize for being quiet. I’d say, “sorry for being so quiet, I’m just feeling tired” countless times. Apologizing for my quiet nature propagated the idea in my mind that being quiet was a negative thing. I then felt worse for being quiet and the cycle continued. You don’t need to make excuses or apologize for who you are.

4. Other people’s opinions do not change who you are. People will always make assumptions about you regardless of what you do. Sadly, if you’re quiet, they may think you’re snobby, stuck up, or shy. But I’ve started using the phrase “who cares.” I don’t care if the cashier at the grocery store thinks I’m snobby because I always use the self-checkout. I’m not defined by what others think of me. Their opinion does not reflect on who I am as a person. My value isn’t based on what others think of me.

5. You are important and valued. You are an interesting, unique, and wonderful individual full of so many strengths. You have so much to offer the world and this world is a richer place because you exist.

One of my favorite quotes by Gandhi states, “speak only if it improves on the silence.” As quiet introverts, we’re already doing that. If only more people would take his advice to heart.  retina_favicon1

Image credit: avemario/Shutterstock

Read this: Yes, There Is Such a Thing as an ‘Introvert’ Hangover



20 Comments

  • David Bley says:

    I have been told to speak up and participate in discussions. I am INTJ and believe that I am HSP. If people take time to know me, they find that my input is valuable. I have noticed in discussions that I am listening and processing the discussion and by the time I have formulated a response, the discussion has moved on to the next topic. I am ‘out of sync’. I have found the use of a ‘talking stick’ helpful in pacing the discussion and getting everyone’s input.

    • Ally says:

      I completely agree. Like you mentioned, the conversation has usually moved on by the time I have something to share. I then have to decide whether its worth it to say my piece regardless, or just stay silent (my default). Having some kind of ‘talking stick’ is a great idea.

  • Love this Alli, glad I visited your blog. It’s one thing to embrace your personality and another thing to say I’m loving myself in the process. Thank you for adding voice in that journey.

  • Claire says:

    I have needed to read this from someone else my whole life. I have suffered with people wanting to constantly change me all the time but I can’t because this is just who I am and it’s normal to me. Thank you so much. I always feel so alone in this.

    • Ally says:

      I’m so happy it resonated with you. Being introverted (and staying to true to yourself) is so difficult when you’re living in a society that doesn’t value who you are. I always like to remind myself that all introverts have to deal with similar feelings at times, it makes me feel a little less alone. I hope things improve for you.

  • Mike_01 says:

    Lovely article, thanks.

  • Pauline says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Felt like I was reading the story of my life.

  • SHEILA OWEN says:

    Thank you for this, Allison. It describes my experiences very closely.

  • Danni says:

    As a socially anxious INFP I also take time to formulate thoughts and therefore the conversation has already moved on when I know what I’m going to say (or have worked up the courage to say it). So I’ve started to do something about it. Whenever I have an idea of what I want to say I raise my hand so that the person talking knows I want to talk next, but they can still finish their train of thought. At first they would laugh, but now they politely acknowledge me when they are done talking. (Note: I only do this with my family. I haven’t tried this with my friends yet.)

  • AlanM says:

    This is wonderful Allison. I’m so glad to have come across this post and the website. I could relate to virtually every word.

    I’ve spent most of my life feeling different and being on the fringe of things. I’ve always found social gatherings difficult and as for the school example, me too.

    I’ve made numerous attempts to change in the past but it never worked out. I am who I am and life will shape me the way it intends.

    Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

    Best.

    Alan

  • Phoenicia says:

    Wow! Your article spoke to me.

    I have spent years feeling “wrong” and alone. Family, friends, peers and colleagues have commented at one stage or another that I am so quiet. I remember about ten years ago, two colleagues asking another if I speak. I was within earshot and felt totally embarrassed.

    As a teen I struggled with being seen as boring. I tried to become fun loving and it did not work at all.

    I prefer meeting people on a one to one basis otherwise I feel I am trying too hard to stay in the conversation.

  • Ally says:

    That’s such a great idea to raise your hand. I can imagine it would initially feel a bit weird, but would be totally worth it if if helps you, thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Ally says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Ally says:

    I’m so glad you could relate, thanks for the comment!

  • Ally says:

    So happy you could relate, it always makes me feel a little less alone to know that others have gone through similar struggles.

  • Ally says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. So glad it was able to help, even if just a little bit. I look forward to the day when introversion is just as accepted as extroversion and people are no longer shamed for who they are.

  • Ally says:

    Thank you for the comment, Phoenicia. I’ve experienced a very similar situation and can remember the feelings of shame and guilt that followed. I also prefer one-on-one conversations. I used to think something was wrong with me, but now I know I’m just a normal introvert.

  • Ena Balanoba says:

    My former boss terminated my contract because I wasn’t sociable enough, that I didn’t participate enough in social gatherings held by the office. I am deeply devastated because I really want the job and being introvert affects my career. Now, that I lost the job. I don’t know what to do. I lost my sense of direction. But now I am in the process of transition. Thanks for giving me valuable insights for not being sorry for being quiet. Maybe I should find a career that is more suitable for me.

  • bakur says:

    It was interesting. Thank you)

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